SWU is working with our members in the run-up to the National Care Service Bill

We need to ensure the workforce is protected and that this Bill will bring better care and support to people in Scotland

The Scottish Government introduced the National Care Service (NCS) Bill to Parliament on 20 June 2022. This Bill sets out principles for a National Care Service (NCS) that aims to improve the quality and consistency of social services in Scotland. It allows Scottish Ministers to transfer social care and social work responsibility from councils to the NCS and newly-formed care boards – this could include up to 75,000 local authority staff across social work and social care. 

The National Care Service co-design paper, published on June 21, states, “The majority of decisions about the National Care Service have not yet been made and the process of designing what the NCS may become and how it will function will be one that continues to develop.” Proposals for the NCS currently only include adult services. There will be further public consultation and collection of evidence before a final decision is made about whether to also transfer children’s and justice social work responsibilities to the NCS, and this would require the Bill to go back to Parliament for approval.

SASW submitted a response to the Scottish Government’s consultation in November 2021, highlighting the current lack of detail regarding this very significant structural change and the mixed views of members about whether these changes will deliver the desired outcomes. SASW also submitted an additional paper specifically focused on the nature of social work and its future role in an NCS.

A clear message has emerged from SASW and SWU members which is that the status quo is not working for people who use or need services, or for social workers. However, there are already many different views about the basic intentions of this Bill. While there may be benefits for social work in having a national framework which has “equality, dignity and human rights at its heart” to promote quality and consistency across the nation, how does that fit with delivering local and nuanced services for communities with very different needs? 

As it stands, we have a year to make sure the new system will deliver better opportunities, greater support, and improved working conditions for social workers. SASW and SWU are committed to defending and improving employment rights and conditions for the social work workforce and ensuring that this new system delivers improved care and support for people who need services. With that in mind, these are the outcomes that we will work towards:

  • A social model of care and support based in human rights, equalities, and inclusion. The model must focus on equalities including anti-racism, the impact of poverty, and disadvantage which must explicitly connect to other Government policy workstreams.
  • Social work should be an accessible, trusted, and stigma-free public service.
  • Social workers must be able to practice in early intervention and prevention to improve outcomes. This means ensuring balanced, reasonable caseloads that allow the necessary time to develop relationships and use all the therapeutic assessment and support skills that social workers are trained in. This will contribute to ensuring that social work and social care are attractive and sought-after career choices.
  • Social work’s three specialisms (adult, children, and justice services) should be located together to ensure effective support is provided to people when they need it at all life stages and through transitions between stages. This will need thought and careful assessment of the options.
  • Changes to structures and governance arrangements must simplify the experience for people using services and those who support them.

This Bill’s proposal to transfer council staff to care boards has caused a significant amount of anxiety and concern among social care and social workers. A Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – known as a TUPE transfer – of this magnitude could have serious ramifications including uncertainty around terms of employment and pension rights, loss or dispersal of local knowledge and expertise, and a destabilisation of the local government workforce that will impact councils’ duties, finances, and potentially Scotland’s ability to deliver critical support services. 

SASW is hosting a series of online discussion events in July and August 2022. We encourage SWU members in Scotland to attend, especially if they have concerns over these or any other aspects of the NCS Bill. The sessions are an opportunity to learn more about the Bill, ask questions, put forward your views, and hear feedback from others. This Bill is currently a framework which means there will be secondary legislation and regulations that will address its details. It is critical that, working constructively with the Scottish Government and MSPs, we develop a plan to help strengthen this Bill for social work as it proceeds through Parliament.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee – which is the lead committee examining the Bill – has also issued a public call for views which closes on 2 September 2022. We call for our members to reply to this consultation and share their views from a social work perspective.